07 May 2020

The Content Creator’s Bible to Storing, Organizing and Backing Up Everything

Ahhh, content. You love to create it, you have to have it, but what in the world do you do with it all after you capture it? That’s what I’m going to answer for you today.

My process isn’t the only process, but I can assure you it’s a bulletproof way to work

Introduction

My process is in no way the only process, but I can assure you it’s a bulletproof way to work, store, organize and backup everything you shoot. Video or photo projects, it doesn’t matter. This is my process for everything I do.

Note that this isn’t just a simple article. This is a complete guide to hard drives, which different drives to get, how to format them, what to format them to, how to completely backup all of your content (photo and video), how to organize your projects, how to name your folders, what all folders to have, how to organize your Premiere Pro projects, how to log your content, how to prepare your footage for an editor and more. This guide is a complete breakdown of everything you need to know about storing, organizing and backing up your content.

I wrote this for professional filmmakers, aspiring videographers and even for video production companies who are looking for a step by step guide to hand off to their new hires. And if you’re a content creator who has struggled to manage your files, you’re going to want to read this whole thing. So grab a cup of coffee, a notepad and a pen and let’s get started.

This is a complete guide, so grab coffee, a notepad and a pen and let’s get started

Field Drives

Let’s begin in the field. Whether I’m shooting a corporate video, a commercial, an event video, an outdoor show, a lifestyle photoshoot or a simple YouTube vlog, every time I finish shooting for the day, I take all of the cards out of my cameras, Zoom recorders, etc., and plug them into my computer to dump them. It doesn’t matter if I’m shooting a multi-day project in Alaska or an afternoon project here locally, I always dump the content I create onto hard drives every single day. This is a must if you want to guarantee that you don’t have an accident with your media.

Seagate 4TB Backup Plus USB 3.0 External Hard Drive

When I’m ready to dump my cards, I always transfer them onto duplicate hard drives. If I am away from home, then the duplicate drives I use are field drives. What I call “field drives” are simply portable USB hard drives that are small and easy to travel with. I typically carry four Seagate 4TB Backup Plus drives with me on every out of town project I do. I like these drives because they are small, portable, affordable, self-powered and they hold a lot of media. With four 4TB drives, that gives me a total of 8TB of duplicate storage space that I have with me on every trip.

With four 4TB drives, that gives me a total of 8TB of duplicate storage space on the go

You always want to store your content in pairs. If you store it only on one drive then you are risking losing everything. Think about it. All it takes is you dropping the drive too hard, accidentally running over it, spilling coffee on it or it just simply failing for some unknown reason for you to lose everything that was on it. You might be able to recover the data, but good luck. The only way to guarantee you don’t lose your content is to save everything to two drives every single time. Yes, you could have something happen to both drives, but that’s highly unlikely, so always save to two. This is an industry standard practice for photo and film, so this needs to be a habit.

After I transfer my dailies to duplicate drives, I always check the transfer to make sure everything copied over correctly and that there were no issues. After I’ve confirmed that everything has transferred correctly, I then proceed to either format or delete the files on my memory cards. Once my memory cards are clear, they are now ready to go back into my cameras, recorders, etc., for the next day’s shoot.

To check transfers, I use “Get Info” on Mac to make sure both folders are identical

Storage Drives

Once I return home from my trip, I take my duplicate drives (marked A & B) and plug them into my iMac. From there, I dump them to two duplicate desktop drives, the kind that plug into the wall and into your computer via USB 3.0. These are what I call storage drives. Storage drives are where the content will live forever. For my storage drives, I use Seagate 10TB Expansion Desktop drives. I like them because they are reliable and you can buy massive amounts of storage for an affordable cost/TB.

Seagate 10TB Expansion Desktop USB 3.0 External Hard Drive

Like my field drives, I always store everything on duplicate storage drives (also marked A & B). This way Field Drive A transfers to Storage Drive A and Field Drive B transfers to Storage Drive B. Once I’ve confirmed that the entire project has transferred from my field drives to my storage drives, I then delete and trash the files from my field drives so they are clean and freed up, ready to go back into my bag for the next trip. I have been using the same field drives for about 5 years now because content never lives permanently on them. They simply are for transferring files from the field to my house.

Field Drive A transfers to Storage Drive A and Field Drive B transfers to Storage Drive B

If I’m shooting a project locally where I will be returning home at night, then I simply skip the field drive step. There’s no need to use field drives if you’re going to be heading straight home with your content after a shoot, so I feel it’s safe to just go straight to the storage drives upon returning home for the day. This cuts out a whole step. But, if I’m on a trip, field drives are a must.

Formatting

A quick note on formatting hard drives. When your purchase field drives or storage drives and set them up for the first time, if you are working on Mac computers, I suggest formatting your drives to Mac OS Extended (Journaled). That’s a safe, solid format to set your drives to for Apple computers.

For Mac, I suggest formatting your drives to Mac OS Extended (Journaled)

If you are working with PCs, I suggest formatting your dives to ExFAT. ExFAT is a great format that’s read by Windows operating systems. ExFAT can also be used on Apple computers, so if you’re needing to send a drive back and forth from a Mac to a PC, ExFAT is the way to go. You could use ExFAT even if you are exclusively working with Mac computers, but I still suggest using Mac OS Extended (Journaled) for Apple only users instead.

For PCs, I suggest formatting your dives to ExFAT

Editing Drives

When it comes time to edit the project (video or photo), I simply plug in one of the storage drives that my computer is holding the project on. It doesn’t matter if it’s Storage Drive A or Storage Drive B since they are identical copies of each other. Once my storage drive is plugged into the computer, I then copy the project from the storage drive onto an edit drive where it will then be edited off of.

Editing drives are different than field drives or storage drives because they are faster. Much faster in fact. What makes field drives and storage drives great is that they are cheap. You can buy a lot of space for an affordable amount. Editing drives are different. They are usually going to be either RAID drives or SSDs, both of which cost a lot more per TB. However, RAID drives & SSDs can both be very fast.

Samsung 2TB T5 Portable Solid-State Drive, a great portable editing drive

You see, you want to have a fast drive to edit off of, not a slow drive. You can have the fastest computer in the world, but if your hard drive is slow, your computer will crawl. Nothing will bring a fast computer to its knees quicker than a slow hard drive. This goes for videos and photos, so if your computer is struggling right now to edit in Lightroom, Final Cut or Premiere, take a look at the drives you’re using because you very well could be bottlenecking your computer which might be your problem.

RAID Drives vs SSDs

Drives like the two Seagates I listed above are spinning disk drives. This means that they have actual physical disks inside them that spin up and spin down while you’re using them. Spinning disk drives are cheap to build which is why they don’t cost much, but they are slow because the disks cannot keep up with the speed of your edit. SSDs (Solid State Drives) on the other hand have no moving parts inside of them, so they don’t have to wait on a disk to spin in order to work. As such they are much, much faster than your typical spinning disk drive would be.

The difference between a spinning disk drive (left) and an SSD (right)

RAID drives are a different beast. RAIDs are actually a combination of spinning disk drives that are daisy chained together to make one super drive. When you combine multiple (two or more) spinning disk drives to create one single drive, they can actually overcome their spinning disk speed issues because they are working together, not relying on one single disk. Because of this, you can combine many spinning disk drives together to create super drives called RAIDs that will be really fast and will have a lot of storage because you are combining multiple drives into one single drive.

RAIDs are a combination of spinning disk drives that make one super drive

RAID systems are typically more affordable per TB than SSDs because they are built off of affordable spinning disk drives rather than trying to get a lot of storage crammed into one big solid state drive. A single 8TB SSD would set you back $2,300 whereas you can buy a 24TB RAID for under $2,200. As you can see, RAID systems are a lot more affordable.

SSDs are blazing fast, but they cost a lot of money/TB making them pretty expensive

When it comes to a RAID system, you can either build your own or purchase a prebuilt configuration from a company like Promise Technology. I suggest the later because you are getting not just the hard drives, but a housing to hold them in that comes with power plugs, a fan and USB/Thunderbolt inputs and outputs. As a side note, I suggest always using USB-C or Thunderbolt connections for your RAID or SSD editing drives because those ports are much faster for your computer to use.

RAID drives are super fast as well, but at a much lower cost/TB

Also, when it comes to a RAID system, you have the ability to setup the RAID in different configurations. For example, some people like to set their RAIDs up to have automatic backups. The benefit of this is that you can transfer footage to the RAID and it will automatically back it up. But, you lose speed and storage space this way. Since I use my RAID as an editing drive, I personally don’t like to do that. I bought my RAID for one thing and one thing only; pure speed. I have my 8TB Pegasus R4 system configured to RAID0 which is the fastest option for RAID systems. RAID0 allows you to use all of the hard drives in the RAID together as one single drive with the sole purpose of editing fast. This is the setting I’d recommend using if you’re going to purchase a RAID drive purely as an edit drive like I do.

I configured my RAID to RAID0 for the purpose of one thing; speed

Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Internal Drive

You might be asking yourself why you can’t just edit off of your computer’s internal hard drive, especially if you bought a computer that has a built-in SSD drive. I want to suggest to you that you never do that. Your computer should be using its internal SSD drive to host your operating system, the programs you’re editing on, your documents, any applications you have downloaded and things of that nature. But you should never, and I mean never use that same drive to keep pictures, videos or projects on.

The reason is because your computer needs its internal drive to have space to breathe. If you’re filling it up with photos and videos, even using just 60-75% of the drive, you’re starting to choke it. It needs space to operate quickly and as such you need to give it as much space as possible. The best way to do this is to use that internal drive only for the operating system, applications, programs, documents and things like that. Even a music library is ok (assuming you don’t have an insane amount of music), but video and photo files are a no, not even if they are just on the drive for an edit. Put your project files on your edit drive and work from that, not your computer’s internal drive. If you want your computer to stay fast and run like new for many years, this is how you do it.

My internal 1TB SSD drive on my 5 year old iMac still has over 75% of free space

My Editing Drives & How I Use Them

Now that we’ve covered the difference between RAID drives and SSDs, I’ll tell you what I do. When I’m ready to edit a project, I transfer the project from the storage drive to an editing drive. For me, I have two editing drives, an 8TB RAID in my office that’s permanently connected to my iMac at all times and a 2TB Samsung T5 SSD which I keep in my backpack. If I’m going to be editing the project from home like I do 95% of the time, then I drag the project to my RAID and begin editing. If I’m going to have to work on the project away from home on my laptop, then I drag the project to my SSD which is a tiny credit card sized drive. This allows me to have two very fast options, one for my office and the other for on the go.

The Samsung T5 portable SSD is the size of a credit card

Once I’ve finished editing my project, I then copy all of the new files from the editing drive to the storage drives (A & B). My storage drives will have already had the raw content on them, but when you edit you’re always going to be creating new files. You’ll now have music, a Lightroom catalogue, After Effects files, your Premiere files, your finished video or photo files, etc., all of which you will have created or added to your project file while editing. Those files need to now be copied over to both of your storage drives so they are backed up. Once I’ve done that, I then check to make sure everything has transferred over correctly. Once I know that my storage drives are exact mirrored copies of the project that’s on my edit drive, I can then proceed to delete the project from the editing drive so that the drive is clean and freed up for the next project.

Billing Your Clients for Storage Space

Before we move on, I want to provide some insight on charging for storage drives. Edit drives and field drives are on your dime. They are tools for you to do your job properly, so you are responsible for paying for them. Storage drives, however, should be paid for by your clients. When you are putting together your cost for a project, you always have to charge for expenses. You probably already do in the form of travel, music, graphics effects, etc., but storage for the project should also be included as part of your expenses. This is because you are going to forever be keeping the files on duplicate storage drives, therefore that is part of the cost of doing the project and should be paid for by your client. Plus, your client will benefit from this because if they ever contact you wanting to make changes a year down the road, or maybe they ask you to create a new project using the old footage, you’ll be able to because you’ll have everything stored. This is a win for you and a win for your client.

My storage drives of choice that I always buy in pairs at my clients’ expense

Charging your clients for storage space is easy. You simply take the cost of your storage drives (in my case $180/drive for the Seagate 10TB storage drive) and multiply that by two (since you’re always backing up onto two drives). For me, that comes out to $360. I then divide $360/10TB to get a total of $36/TB. From there, I just take a guess when I’m building out my proposal on how much space I’m going to use to create the project. For example, let’s say I plan on using 1.5TB for a project. I then multiply that by $36 ($36×1.5TB) to come up with a total cost of $54 for the project. That’s going to be my storage expense for the job. After the job is complete, I can go in and see what the actual final file size is for the project and then adjust on the final bill. So if I ended up using only 1TB, then in my final bill I charge them for $36, not $54 so they are only paying for what they use.

Note at the bottom how I billed for Hard Drive Space for this project

As you can see, storage costs for a project isn’t expensive, so your clients won’t mind when you have that small of an expense as part of their bill. That being said, buying duplicate sets of storage drives at $360/set adds up over time, so make sure to have your clients pay for this. If you charge for hard drive space you’ll never have to buy storage drives on your dime again. Well, unless you are creating your own projects for yourself, that is.

Never Delete Anything

Also, don’t ever delete anything. Deleting is bad. You might think something you have on file, maybe an old project from five years ago or footage you never ended up using can be deleted to clear space, but that’s a terrible idea. You want to always keep everything you do. You never know when you’re going to end up using some odd shot you got at the lake one time for a video you just were hired to make about lakes. You just truly never know. You could end up selling old content as stock footage, getting hired to re-edit old projects, using footage you have on file for your new highlight reel, etc., so never delete anything. Plus, your clients are footing the bill for storage space as a cost for doing the job, so there’s literally no reason to delete anything. So don’t!

I took this shot over 6 years ago and am using it today for a new project

Labeling & Logging Your Storage Drives

When it comes to organizing content, there are two things I do that makes everything easy to find, store and manage. The first is I keep a note on Apple Notes that lists out my hard drives and what’s on them.

All 11 pairs of storage drives I own equaling roughly 90TB worth of backed up projects

Every storage drive I own is labeled. I label mine RRM SD #-A/B. That stands for Rustic River Media Storage Drive (the number drive set I’m on) and A for the A drive and B for the B drive. Every time I fill up a set of drives, I move up a number. Right now I’m on drives 11-A and 11-B. And when I fill these up, I’ll make a list in Apple Notes that says RRM SD 11-A/B and what’s on them. This makes finding projects very easy so I’m never having to dig around to look for anything.

My detailed Apple Note for all 11 of my archived storage drive sets

Organizing Your Content & Overall File Structure

The other thing I do to keep my stuff organized is to have a very simple yet well broken down file structure. All of my projects are broken down this way.

I start with one root folder which will be the name of the company or person I’m creating the project for (the client). Under that root folder will be the names of the projects I’m doing for that client. One client, such as High Wide & Heavy Outfitters, could have multiple projects listed under their name, so it would list out like this: High Wide & Heavy Outfitters>HWH Outfitter Video (the client name followed by the project I’m doing for them).

Inside of the project folder is where all of my content for that project lives.

Here you’ll find multiple folders starting with After Effects. After Effects is where I save all of my After Effects project files, exported lower thirds, special effects I’ve made and things of that nature.

Next up is Audio. Audio is where all of the sound effects (SFX), Zoom recordings and things like that are located.

After that is Audition. I use Adobe Audition to edit all of the audio for my video projects, so I save those files here.

Under that is Final Export. That’s where the finished videos will be exported to. I usually have three folders here; Mobile, ProRes and Web. I like to export three different copies of each video I make, each in a different format, and this is where I put them. I’ll have a lower resolution file for Mobile for my client or I to put on our phones or iPads, ProRes for a largely uncompressed master copy of the project and Web for a version that’s ready to be uploaded anywhere on the internet.

Next is Footage. This is where all of the footage for a video project lives. I like to break down Footage starting with the camera I used. This is so that I can keep track of what cameras where used for what clips which is helpful for things like color grading. Under the camera name is the card #s. Every time I dump a card from a camera during a shoot, it goes into the next card number. So if I were to, for example, dump one card per day for my A7RIII during a 5 day shoot, you’d see Cards 1-5 here. I do this for each camera and card I use during a shoot.

Next in the file structure is Lightroom. Whether I shot photos during a video project or the project was a photoshoot to begin with, this is where the Lightroom catalogue for those photos will be saved.

I don’t believe in having one massive Lightroom catalogue because that can bog Lightroom down as well as make things harder to find. Instead, I create a new Lightroom catalogue for each and every project I do. This is where that catalogue goes.

After that we have logos. Logos is where all the client logos go.

Under that we have LUTs. I shoot almost all of my video content in log and use technical LUTs to color grade. I like to save here whatever LUTs I will be using to color the project so that no matter where this project file is, the LUTs used to color the files will be with it.

Next is Music, where the music files for the video project go.

A Quick Note on Notes

After Music is Notes. When I’m shooting a project that someone else is going to be editing, I make sure to create a note for them that I save on the hard drive in the Notes folder. This note will list out the cameras and card #s as well as what’s on each card so that they immediately know what’s going on. For example, if I used my FS7II to film a turkey hunt, I’d list out each card and what is on those cards. Cards 1 & 2 in my notes might say, “Day one of the hunt including a morning setup where two toms came in, but no shots were taken, as well as an evening hunt where a storm blew in and forced us to take shelter.”

By having a note on the drive that explains what’s on each card, you’re letting the editor know exactly what and where everything is. It completely takes out the guesswork for them and makes their job a lot easier. It also makes you look a lot more professional and they will beg their boss to hire you again. It only takes a few minutes every evening to do this, so make notes a habit so you’ll have a solid log of everything you do.

It also helps if you write down things like what picture profiles you used for each camera, any ideas you had for a certain shot sequence you did, what you used your Zoom recorder for, and things like that. Remember, you’re the shooter and you shot the footage the way you did for a reason, so explain these things to the editor so that he/she knows exactly what’s going on.

My notes to the editor for a project I was hired to shoot for LGI Homes

Back to the File Structure

Following Notes is Pics. Pics is where I save the raw photos for the Lightroom catalogue as well as the edited pictures. Just like the Footage folder, I dump photos in the Raw folder broken down by camera model and card #. In the Edited folder, I save the finished edits so I always know where they are. Imported, as seen in this screenshot, is an additional folder I use to save any pictures that were sent to me by the client. An example might be if the client took cell phone pics of me filming their video which would be great for me to have for promoting myself online. As such, I put any photos I receive from people into the Imported folder under Pics.

Next is Premiere. This is where I save the Premiere project files.

Lastly is Screen Grabs. Here I save any screenshots I take from a video project that I want to use for social media posting or to use as thumbnails for YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc.

And that’s it! That’s how I organize all of my projects. As you can see my projects are broken down very well so that everything is extremely easy to find. I could take a project folder and hand it over to any editor in the world and there’s no way they wouldn’t be able to immediately know where and what everything is. When I get hired for freelance work, my clients love me because everything I do makes so much sense. There’s absolutely no guesswork doing it this way. Plus, because I’ve been using this system for so long, I know it by memory and it takes me less than a minute to create all these folders.

Creating Bins in Premiere That Match Your Folders

The Premiere project for High Wide & Heavy Outfitters

As a side note, in Premiere I also make it a point to create bins that are broken down exactly like the project folders on the hard drive so that whether I’m in Premiere or am poking around on the drive, I know where everything is at all times. You wouldn’t believe how much easier this makes life. Plus, I could pull out a project from five years ago and be able to load it in Premiere just like it was when I last touched it and know exactly where everything is in both Premiere and on the drive. It’s an incredible way to work.

All of the bins in Premiere reflect exactly that of my hard drive files for this project

Premiere Pro Project Backups

One last tip is that in the Documents folder on my computer, I have a folder called Project Backups. When I’m working on a video edit throughout the day, I make sure to use Premiere’s “Save a Copy” option to save a copy of my project file under the Project Backups file in my Documents folder. This way if my editing drive ever crashed I would have the Premiere project file backed up on my iMac’s internal drive. And these files are tiny, so they don’t eat up hardly any space. As such, I keep a backup Premiere file of every project I’ve ever done here.

My Project Backups folder in the Documents section of my iMac

Conclusion

And that, my friends, is the content creator’s bible for storing, organizing and backing up everything. If you learn to use my method, you’ll have a great organizational system so that you know where everything is at all times and so that you don’t ever misplace anything again. You’ll also have perfect duplicate copies of everything you do so that you don’t have to worry much about losing anything. This is a bulletproof system that works for content creators at any level.

Workflow is just as important as learning how to shoot pretty images

Remember, learning how to shoot pretty images is only one part of being a successful photographer or videographer. Having a solid workflow, being organized, keeping good records and backing up everything you do is another major factor in your ability to be successful in this line of work. If you want to rise to the top, you need to learn how to do this.

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Comments

  • Joss
    May 16, 2020 Reply

    Hello! I have a couple of queries:

    1. Has a disk or a backup disk already died? any contingency plan?

    2) God forbid, do you have an optional copy outside your home or office in case of a disaster or theft? (low probabilities, but unfortunately probability of happening)

    3. Do you tend to connect your hard drives once a month or every so often to see your health and see that everything is going well?

    Greetings and great article! I enjoyed it a lot.

  • Joshua Milligan
    May 18, 2020 Reply

    Hey Joss, thanks for reading the article! Those are great questions.

    1) I have not had a disk or backup disk die in nearly 10 years of doing this. But, I do have a contingency plan as I have duplicate copies of everything. If one drive goes down, I have a backup ready that I can copy over to a new drive. If the RAID drive goes, I have backup copies of the project files and content files, so I am safe all the way around.

    2) I keep my B-drives in a fireproof safe, so if I had a fire or if someone were to break into the house, etc., I may lose my A-drives, but the B-drives would be protected. I could then back them up after the incident.

    3) I check all my drives very regularly to keep an eye on them to make sure they are ok. If I ever see that one is bad, I would immediately back up the second copy of that drive.

    Great questions and thanks for commenting!

    • Joss
      May 21, 2020 Reply

      Thank you very much for answering!

      Regarding the A units, it is easier to be connecting them to verify if they work correctly or not since they are at hand. But how do you check the B drives? Could you be specific with your verification system? I find it hard to believe that you check 22 hard drives a month, I consider it to be considerable and valuable time a year.

      On the hard drives stored in the safe, could you tell how you save them? in their boxes? out of them?

      Finally, there is something that is not clear to me: the native shots and the editing files are backed up, but the additional files such as music, graphics, etc., that arrive in the middle of the editing process and post are backed up at the end of the project? (from raid or ssd system to disks A and B). Do you mean that these files do not have a backup when the project is still running? Tx

      • Joshua Milligan
        May 21, 2020 Reply

        I never said I checked them once a month, I said I check them very regularly. For me, I check all my drives every 2-3 months which is quite frequent. I have no need to check them more than that as they are consistently healthy. I also pull footage, effects and project files from drives for other projects on a regular basis, so I’m frequently reaching into all of my drives to grab those files. That’s a large part of why they don’t have to be checked as often because I’m regularly grabbing stuff from them. Sometimes I’ll use A drives and sometimes I’ll go get my B-drives instead so that they are all getting used quite often.

        As for how I store them in my safe, I’m not going to explain that as that’s not relevant to this article.

        To your last comment, I keep the A drive plugged into my computer while I’m editing off of the edit drive. As I create new folders or files (graphics, music, audio files, etc.), I drag a copy of them onto the A drive so that the files on my editing drive are duplicated on storage drive A. At the end of the project I drag those files onto storage drive B so that all files are completely backed up. At that point the editing drive can be cleared.

        Those are fine details that didn’t need to be mentioned in the article as it was already getting so long.

        • Joss
          May 21, 2020 Reply

          These details are gold as they help you know what works and what doesn’t in a real workspace.

          Regarding how you store your discs in your safe, my question was what kind of care did I have since the discs are plastic and the box of each disc takes up a little more space where the accessories come from.

          Thank you very much for the answers

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